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"Oh yeah, I remember this!"- Early Season Turns... | UNITED STATES, OREGON | 12/03/2009, by McKerrow
On November 22nd, 2009, the town of Government Camp, on the south slope of Mt Hood, sat quietly in a light rain. The trees still held last night's snow but dripped profusely already. Shortly after arriving at the Summit ski area/tubing hill, I saw two snowboarders make their way slowly down the main slope.
"Hey," I called, "you coming from T-line?"
"Yeah. It's pretty nice snow up there," they said. Then they started hiking to the road to hitch back up.
I considered doing the same. The road snaked up to Timberline lodge, 2,000' up the volcano. I could make three or four laps that way, but I'd spend most of the time on a roadside or in a vehicle. What I really craved was the woods, the snow, and the quiet. So I slogged up through the tiny ski resort, past the top of the lift where the Alpine Road enters the trees.
There are a number of ski trails to choose from as long as you keep going up. All paths lead to T-line, but Alpine is the most direct and the steepest. A snowboard trail formed a single track down the middle of the road, making for fast climbing. But I took a few side trails anyway, trying to get a feel for the terrain and looking for good skiing.
I can't say I found any, though it might be there somewhere. The Timberline side of the mountain has the gentlest slope on Mt Hood. The trees are packed rather tightly too. I love low-speed cruising through a pretty forest, but here you'd have to get the snow conditions just right or else get stuck again and again.
I cut across the slope to rejoin the Alpine road. The slope gets steeper as you near the boundary of Timberline ski area and the views to the south open up. I was already at eye-level with the top of Mt Hood Skibowl's highest lift across the valley. The cloud ceiling concealed the rest of Mt Hood above me, but I could see a hundred miles out into the desert to the east.
Eventually I reached the ski area, and continued marching up the boundary line next to a run. I helped pull a stuck snowboarder across a flat spot along the way, getting a confused but gracious look. It wasn't crowded on a Thursday morning and the early-season snow pack gave the slopes a very lumpy character. I saw some sweet airs, and one that might have broken the guy's wrist, or so he told his buddy. It looked likely to me.
I enjoy experiencing in-bounds skiing this way, just slowly tromping up next to it all. I choose this route because I was alone and I was worried about the stability of our early snow pack. The resort provided avalanche control, and the trail back to Government Camp is a popular "last run" at Timberline, in case I needed help on the way out. I feel a little timid thinking so cautiously, but I've never had problems skiing solo and I'd like to keep it that way.
I didn't let my cautiousness stop me from ascending right past the top of highest lift running. My goal was the top of the Magic Mile lift, at 7,000' and way above the tree line. There wasn't nearly enough snow to open those slopes yet. It was a landscape of carved-out rock, wind-lipped snow sculptures, truck-sized boulders, and deep ravines; a stark alpine badland. I should have brought a camera. I quickly decided to ski down the same line I skied up, and lucked out by finding a wide ribbon of smooth snow that crossed under the empty chair lift cable. I counted steps for the last few pitches, really feeling it in my legs now. For the first climb of the season this wasn't exactly a cake-walk.
The wind howled and ripped around the lift-house at the top. The clouds had risen and the majestic cone of Mt Jefferson stood due south, with the bulky Three Sisters off to her east shoulder. In the west the central Willamette Valley was bathed in a golden amber glow. Then I turned around and I could see the shape of Hood's summit. The clouds revealed glimpses of the huge rock and ice features above. For whatever reason Mt Hood often has a Mt Hood-shaped cloud sitting on her head, though I suspected she was now slowly letting it dissolve.
After a snack it was time to make the first turns of the season.
Wind, wind-packed snow, and poor visibility gave the first turns a vertiginous fear of crashing already. "Let's try to keep it upright!" I yelled across the volcanic wasteland. Removing my goggles allowed me to see the fine texture changes on the snow that told how hard, soft, or wavy it might be. Then I managed to carve twenty really groovy telemark turns down an easy smooth patch of snow.
A welcome change came over me when I stopped. It seemed like every cell in my body said in unison, "Oh yeah, I remember this!" Everything felt in tune, as if an internal gyroscope began to spin. Something clicked on and my last alpine descent felt last week instead of six busy months ago. The coming winter's snowfalls stretched before my imagination, and all I could do was smile and sail into another twenty turns.
I turned around and saw the entire south face of the volcano, white against a pewter sky. The snow wasn't deep, nor steep, nor particularly dry, but this was turning into a really great day!
I indulged myself on the runs of the resort, catching my first airs on the features I'd picked out on the way up. Near the resort's bottom the Alpine Road forked off out-of-bounds, now a well-worn track with just a few surprises if you got going too fast. I took it pretty easy, resting often, as my legs were losing their ability to hold me up by then. Eventually I had to skate down the warm, wet track to reach the car at the bottom. My legs would hurt for a couple days, but that's all part of feeling like a skier again!